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Thursday, June 22, 2017

59. One Lawyer Equals 3,000 Reams Of Paper: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

One Lawyer Equals 3,000 Reams Of Paper 

Once, a long time ago, I spoke before the District 3 School Board in Manhattan to plead 
that it not retain a private lawyer when all the legal work a school district is legitimately 
entitled to is provided free by the city's corporation counsel. In spite of this, the district 
had allocated $10,000 to retain a Brooklyn law firm. This is standard technique with 
boards everywhere which seek legal advice to get rid of their "enemies." They either 
prefer to conceal this from the corporation counsel or fear such work might be rejected as 
illegitimate. One school board member had already consulted with these same attorneys 
on five separate occasions pursuing some private vendetta, then submitting bills for 
payment against the school funds of the district. Sometimes this is simply a way to toss a 
tip to friends. 

My argument went as follows: 

In order to emphasize the magnitude of the loss this waste of money would entail — 
emblematic of dozens of similar wastes every year — I want to suggest some alternate 
uses for this money which will become impossible once it's spent on a lawyer none of the 
kids needs. It would buy: 

Three thousand reams of paper, 1,500,000 sheets. In September six of the schools in 
District 3 opened a school year without any paper at all. Letters from the principals of 
these schools to the school board, of which my wife has photocopies, will attest to this. It 
would buy enough chemicals and lab specimens to run the entire science program at I.S 
44 and Joan of Arc, nearly 2,000 copies of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare 
as discounted by Barnes and Noble in hardcover, enough sewing machines and 
fabrication supplies to offer six modern dressmaking classes. In light of the fact New 
York City's fashion industry is a major employer, it would seem a saner use of the funds. 
How many musical instruments, how much sports equipment, wood, ceramic materials, 
art supplies does $10,000 buy? The Urban League's "Children Teach Children" reading 

project could be put in the district, displacing armies of low-utility, $23-an-hour 
consultants. With $10,000 we could pay our own students $l-an-hour — receive better 
value — and see our money in the pockets of kids, not lawyers. Invested in stock or even 
30-year treasury notes as a scholarship fund, this money would return in perpetuity 
enough interest yearly to pay a kid's way through City University. The money in question 
would buy 50,000 pens. Eight computer installations. Two hundred winter coats for kids 
who are cold. 

I concluded with two suggestions: first, a referendum among parents to find out whether 
they would prefer one of the options above or a lawyer; second, to buy 10,000 lottery 
tickets so we all could have a thrill out of this potlatch instead of the solitary thrill a 
Brooklyn lawyer would have banking our check. 

Four years later, I appeared before the same school board, with the following somewhat 
darker statement: 

On September 3, 1986, my teaching license, which I had held for 26 years, was 
terminated secretly while I was on medical leave of absence for degenerative arthritis. 
The arthritis was contracted by climbing 80 steps a day to the third floor for more than a 
year — at the express request of the co-directors — with a badly broken hip held together 
by three large screws. 

Although papers for a medical leave of absence were signed and filed, these documents 
were destroyed at the district level, removed from central board medical offices. The 
current management apparently was instructed to deny papers had ever been filed, 
allowing the strange conclusion I had simply walked away from a quarter century of 
work and vanished. 

The notice terminating my teaching license was sent to an address where I hadn 't lived 
for twenty-two years. It was returned marked "not known at this address. " This satisfied 
the board's contractual obligation to notify me of my imminent dismissal, however 

When I returned to work from what I had no reason to assume wasn 't an approved leave, 
I was informed by personnel that I no longer worked for District 3, and that I could not 
work anywhere because I no longer had a teaching license. This could only be reinstated 
if my building principal would testify he knew I had properly filed for leave. Since this 
would involve the individual in serious legal jeopardy, it isn 't surprising my request for 
such a notice was ignored. 

From September 1987 to April of 1988 my family was plunged into misery as I sought to 
clear my name. Although I had personal copies of my leave forms at the first hearing on 
this matter, my building principal and the district personnel officer both claimed their 
signatures on the photocopies were forgeries. My appeal was denied. 

Just before the second hearing in March, a courageous payroll secretary swore before a 
public official that my leave extensions had always been on file at Lincoln, signed by 
school authorities. She testified that attempts had been made to have her surrender these 
copies, requests she refused. Production of her affidavit to this at my third hearing 
caused an eventual return of my license and all lost pay. At the moment of disclosure of 
that affidavit during a third grievance hearing, the female co-director shouted in an 
agitated voice, "The District doesn 't want him back!" 

I am asking for an investigation of this matter because my case is far from the only time 
this has happened in District 3. Indeed, all over New York this business is conducted so 
cynically that administrators violate basic canons of decency and actual law with 
impunity because they know the system will cover for them no matter how culpable their 

No comment was ever forthcoming from that Board of Education. Two years after my 
restoration, I was named New York City Teacher of the Year. Two years after that, New 
York State Teacher of the Year. A year later, after addressing the Engineer's Colloquium 
at NASA Space Center, invitations poured in to speak from every state in the union and 
from all over the world. But the damage my family had sustained carried lasting effects. 

Yet I proved something important, I think. On looking back at the whole sorry tapestry of 
the system as it revealed itself layer by layer in my agony, what was most impressive 
wasn't its horrifying power to treat me and my family without conscience or compassion, 
but its incredible weakness in the face of opposition. Battling without allies for thirty 
years, far from home and family, without financial resources, with no place to look for 
help except my native wit, nor for courage except to principles learned as a boy in a 
working-class town on the Monongahela River, I was able to back the school creature 
into such a corner it was eventually driven to commit crimes to get free of me. 

What that suggests is cause for great hope. A relative handful of people could change the 
course of schooling significantly by resisting the suffocating advance of centralization 
and standardization of children, by being imaginative and determined in their resistance, 
by exploiting manifold weaknesses in the institution's internal coherence: the disloyalty 
its own employees feel toward it. It took 150 years to build this apparatus; it won't quit 
breathing overnight. The formula is to take a deep breath, then select five smooth stones 
and let fly. The homeschoolers have already begun. 

The Great Transformation 

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